After 18 years of experience of helping with children with learning difficulties, Samia Azmi recognised a need for parental support. She started a business which not only offers support for children, but also their parents. How to support your child best at home? Samia can show you how to do that! We talked to her about the challenges she had when starting up a business in the education sector.
Can you give us a brief description of your business and when it started?
Optimal Learning Consultancy is an Educational Consultancy specialising in learning difficulties, as well as helping students to reach their full potential. I started the business in March 2019, with the aim to help parents support their child in the most effective way, so that s/he can bridge gaps in learning and skills. We offer a range of services, to give parents options, so they can get involved with resources that are effective, appropriate, easily available, low cost and easy to use. Services include Parent Workshops, Home Support Kits, Remedial Sessions for handwriting, spelling, reading, creative writing and/or comprehension.
For students who may show signs of a learning difficulty such as dyslexia, a diagnostic assessment is done which gives a comprehensive profile of the child’s strengths and weaknesses. The assessment can be used to draw up an Individual Education Plan and to make necessary accommodations in class. If necessary, a full psychometric assessment can be done by an Educational Psychologist to get a confirmed diagnosis at a later stage.
What made you decide to turn your interest into a business?
I have 18 years of experience working with students with diagnosed learning difficulties, from moderate to severe. It involved individualising a remedial program that develops foundation skills and also gives students strategies, so that they can compensate for any weaknesses. I found that students who got support at home as well as in school, alongside the remedial support, closed their gaps in Literacy or Numeracy much sooner. I learnt that many parents are willing to support their child at home, but they were not sure of which resources to use. As a result, they were spending more on programmes that were not necessarily helping their child. I felt that supporting parents is as important as supporting the child. So I shifted my focus and decided that I wanted to try and provide the support in the form of raising awareness and sharing resources with parents.
I’m also an advocate for early intervention. When identified early (as early as 5 years old), the child can overcome a learning difficulty much earlier, because s/he is still at a foundation level. This approach can make a world of difference to the child’s future performance in terms of attitude to learning, interest, curiosity and developing the necessary skills needed to meet the demands of any curriculum.
How do you balance your time between the other aspects of your life (i.e. being a mum) and being an entrepreneur?
I have a very supportive family and a very reliable house help. My children are quite independent and I tend to work mainly when they are in school, or when it’s their down time. I enjoy helping people, so I don’t regard this as ‘work’ and take it in stride. Whenever I have a free moment, I will make a poster or create a workshop.
What challenges did you face getting your business started?
The main one was deciding whether I should register it with a local partner or independently. The next one was getting people to know about the consultancy and its services. It’s getting parents and teachers alike to understand that there is a middle way between the students struggling and going for an assessment by a Clinical/Educational Psychologist. A lot can be done between these two points and it is not uncommon for issues to get resolved in the process. From a financial point of view, keeping the cash flow steady is dependent then on the latter. In education, advertising per se doesn’t help as much as ‘by word of mouth’, so it is a slow process.
What tips do you have for others who are thinking about setting up their own business?
- Be passionate about your ‘product’ and believe in it.
- Be patient – it can take a long time to get going.
- Plan well – especially financially, so that there is a buffer.